Twenty miles southwest of Jerry Jones' football gallery and the Rangers Ballpark is a rare swath of Arlington that hasn't yet been bulldozed over with stadiums, matching suburban houses or strip malls. It's a narrow, two-lane street called Mansfield Cardinal Road, and it goes pitch black at night, with no streetlights to guide cars away from the dirt and grass that line its sidewalk-less borders.
Each house is separated by a few acres, and none of them look the same. A place at the corner has a homemade sign advertising concrete. A scarecrow guards another. A fancier home is set back by a patch of perfectly manicured grass and protected by a tall gate. Down the way is a pale brown mobile home.
Some of the areas appear to be abandoned, fenced-off spaces with nothing but grass and weeds. Farther down is a house with horses in the backyard. The horses don't know it, but they have a great view of what is probably the most scandalous garden in the whole city.
"No trespassing" reads a sign taped to the front gate of the garden. "Only love enters here" reads another. The home on the property looks conventional enough, a gray two-story house that could be dropped in any middle-class neighborhood. A plug-in Prius charges in the parking lot by the garage. But a mysterious square covered by a tarp greets people who drive into the parking lot. It's actually a chalkboard, and when it's not covered it announces the name of the property: the Garden of Eden.
Behind the house is a 3.5-acre maze of nature and man-made artifacts. The grass is thick and uneven. One patch — a few feet wide, near the front gate — appears to be growing out of control. Bushels of flowers grow randomly in some parts of the lush field. The garden itself is squared off by another fence. It holds endless rows of leafy, tall plants. A giant black Buddha statue sits on a raised platform above the garden, praying.
Closer to the house are more signs of human life. Wooden, round steps lead visitors on a dirt path through a deck, decorated with an assortment of dining-room furniture, pottery and wind chimes. Three matching wicker chairs are perched across the way. An official Starbucks canopy hangs above another table, protecting it from the rain. And at the back of the property, on the edge of the field, sits a wooden shed filled with buckets, pans and other farming equipment. It's next to a pile of logs and an aging red couch. There's also a hammock, a horse swing and two trampolines.
It used to be a traditional house with no name, carefully mowed grass and a tamer garden. Shellie Smith, a tan woman of 53 years, with a muscular, wiry frame, moved here with her ex-husband, a pilot, 17 years ago, and they raised two children here. They went on double dates with an elderly couple who owned property nearby and drank wine at each other's houses afterward.
Shellie is still here, but that's about the only thing that's the same. Her children are grown and gone. Her ex-husband moved out about six years ago, and in his place moved Quinn Eaker, an opinionated, 30-year-old environment guru who wears his hair in a bun on top of his head. A few years later, another woman moved in, a 32-year-old former art gallery owner from Sedona named Inok Alrutz. Her daughter, Qiqi, is a cheerful 2-year-old who runs around naked, goes to bed at midnight and wakes up at noon.
The house, once the modest hub of a traditional American family, is now home to a year-round garden designed in a style of landscaping called permaculture. The philosophy, popular with foodies and hippie-types, is supposed to embrace a sustainable way to farm. It's a backlash of sorts to monoculture, the single-crop growing system used on industrial farms. "You go to a farmers market or Whole Foods and you buy the organic stuff — it's all crap compared to what this is," Quinn says.
Besides its permanent residents, the Garden of Eden also accepts visitors from around the world, so long as they're equally passionate about an eco-friendly lifestyle.
Two twentysomethings are crashing here now, after reading about the Garden of Eden online. Another visitor, a 28-year-old gardener who introduces himself as "Wolf," found the house through a Craigslist ad. They needed a gardener to help out. Wolf lives in his van, which is now parked on the property. "I'm a dirty hippie," he says, seemingly joking.
The Garden of Eden's bathrooms are two wooden outhouses hiding two compost toilets, one for urinating and one for everything else. (No toilet paper: That's what the sawdust is for.) An assortment of items recycled from trash bins and warehouses keeps the ecosystem thriving.